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Career Path: How to become a Network Engineer

It’s a good time to consider a career in Network Engineering. Network engineers get the opportunity to work in almost any industry alongside a team of skilled IT professionals. And with more companies making the shift to big data, cloud computing and social media, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a steady growth in the demand for network engineers and system architects.

Getting Through the Door

To become a network engineer, you must have a strong grasp of networking basis—everything from the different classifications of a network to understating how wirel...more

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Career Path: How to become a Network Engineer

It’s a good time to consider a career in Network Engineering. Network engineers get the opportunity to work in almost any industry alongside a team of skilled IT professionals. And with more companies making the shift to big data, cloud computing and social media, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a steady growth in the demand for network engineers and system architects.

Getting Through the Door

To become a network engineer, you must have a strong grasp of networking basis—everything from the different classifications of a network to understating how wireless access points, switches and routers function in a network. If you’re just starting out in networking, you can quickly improve your knowledge by signing up for a course on basic networking. Online sites like Udemy and Coursera are a good place to begin.

However, the best approach is to complete a degree in programs that cover networking. Good options include computer systems management, electrical engineering, physics or computer science. Beyond the benefits of early exposure, college programs offer an invaluable balance of theoretical and practical coursework. They also include courses in core areas like software, network architecture, web fundamentals, computer security and server administration.

Get Some Experience

Most employers only consider candidates without a degree if they have an extensive work history that proves their skills. And if you already have a degree, pairing that with at least a year’s worth of experience will significantly improve your odds of landing that first job. Learn more about networking by volunteering as a technician or intern on different projects. You can also work your way into a position by find jobs in related areas like IT repair, service, systems administration or desktop support. Some of the other minimum requirements that you’ll need to meet to qualify as a junior-level network administrator or network engineer include:

  • An ability to understand or create complex blueprints
  • Good problem-solving skills
  • Effective organization
  • An ability to work alongside teams
  • Good multitasking skills
  • Strong attention to detail
  • Capable of working odd hours

Working as a Junior Network Engineer

Depending on the size of the company, you may work alongside a large team of IT professionals where you’re assigned a specific responsibility; or work alone in a smaller office where you’re tasked with a broader range of IT-related issues. In the beginning, your duties may revolve around networking administration, namely establishing the network environment for the office by configuring systems and enforcing network standards. You’ll also likely be tasked with configuring switch equipment, firewalls and liaising with the rest of the team.

Moving up the Ranks

As your skill improves, so also will your duties and responsibilities. After three years, most network engineers are able to design and implement new network solutions. They are also able to support firewall environment as well as maximize the performance of a network. Other duties may include scheduling system upgrades, troubleshooting network issues and undertaking network fault investigations. They may work closely with network architects in creating secure network systems and are charged with performing firmware upgrades and hardware changes.

Advance Your Career: How to become a Senior Network Engineer

Senior Network Engineers design, deploy and manage data communication networks, ranging from LANs to cloud infrastructure that connects wide areas. They present plans to upper management and oversee hardware and soft upgrades to improve network performance. This position requires good communication and leadership skills as well as an ability to multitask under pressure.

Cement the Basics

Experts advise that junior engineers take the time to master the core concepts of networking to ensure they have the right foundation. Expand your knowledge on areas like subnetting, spanning-tree and ARP before taking on advanced components like BGP route reflectors.

You can also build on your knowledge by becoming skilled in Linux as well as multiple vendors. Although programming isn’t a core requirement for becoming a network engineer, you’ll improve your abilities if you have experience in scripting network-related languages like Python, Bash and Perl.

Decide on a Network Engineering Path

After one or more years of working as a technician, you’d have gained enough experience to decide your ideal career path. Network Engineering can go in different directions depending on the technology or experience. For instance, you can decide to become a network analyst or network administrator. You can also make the move towards becoming a network manager or network solutions architect.

Take Industry Certifications

Network engineers need to stay constantly updated on emerging trends to keep up with the changes in the industry. A good way of improving your professional development is by earning industry-standard certifications. Recruiters often prefer senior network engineers who are certified with multiple vendors. Some of the qualifications that help improve your chances of promotion include:

  • Microsoft Certificated Professional Certifications: Microsoft Certified Solutions Associate (MCSA), Microsoft Solutions Developer (MCSD) and Microsoft Solutions Expert (MCSE)
  • Cisco Certifications: Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), Cisco Certified Network Professional (CCNP) and the Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert (CCIE)
  • CompTIA Certifications: CompTIA A+ and CompTIA Network+
  • Red Hat Certifications: Red Hat Certified System Administrator (RHCSA), Red Hat Certified Engineer (RHCE) and Red Hat Certified Architect (RHCA)

Expand your Experience and Network

Get involved in more projects. The only way to improve your hands-on skill is to actually be involved in designing or managing different kinds of networks. Because maintenance and upgrades are often down after hours, you’re likely to work late hours of the day and sometimes over the weekend. You can also expand your network by joining forums and signing up with professional associations in your region. Having a strong network will not only help keep you updated on emerging trends, it will also expand your visibility to possible job openings.

Network Engineer Job Description

We’ve done the research for you. After evaluating numerous job descriptions, we’ve written our own representative job description for a mid-level software engineer with between 2 and 5 years of relevant experience.

As the network engineer, you’ll be tasked with managing the company’s day-to-day network performance alongside the IT support team. You’ll be expected to maintain the integrity of server systems and ensure fast interconnectivity while minimizing downtime. The ideal candidate for this position will be efficient, organized and have good problem-solving skills. Our engineers are versatile and self-motivated, can work in a self-directed manner or in a collaborative setting as needed, and display leadership qualities. We value a diversity of perspectives and encourage healthy discussion and debate, but unite behind our decisions.

What We Need Your Help With

  • Designing, developing and maintaining network infrastructure
  • Maximizing network performance by troubleshooting problems and minimizing outages
  • Reporting network operation status
  • Establishing and enforcing network policies for optimal network security
  • Defining and monitoring network access
  • Designing unique network solutions for each department
  • Maintaining firewall and optimizing security
  • Performing audits on host devices and IP addresses
  • Establishing the network environment by installing and configuring network systems
  • Programming switches, routers and other network hardware
  • Configuring DNS servers
  • Managing owned domain names
  • Selecting and installing data communication components
  • Conducting data network fault investigations
  • Liaising with vendors

What We Look For

  • 3+ years of proven hands-on experience configuring and troubleshooting network hardware
  • 2+ years of recent experience in network design and implementation, network performance tuning
  • Experience with Proxy servers
  • Solid network foundation and understanding of TC/IP or OSI model
  • Familiarity with different network types including VoIP and SANs
  • Exemplary communication skills; able to map problem-solution space and explain possible solutions to non-technical team members
  • Passion for learning new technologies fast
  • B.S. degree in Network Administration, Information Technology, Software Engineering or a related field
  • Knowledge of Nexus Products, CISCO Products and network protocols (BGP, OSPF, IPSEC, 802.11 etc.)

These Would Also Be Nice

  • Experience with project management
  • Previous experience in system support, network administration or IT security positions
  • Additional certifications such as CCNA, CNNP, MCSE, MCSA and CompTIA Network+
  • Flexibility with working hours, including occasionally spending the weekends or night

Senior Software Engineer Career Paths - Where to Go From Here

With more than 10 years’ worth of experience in network engineering, your career path could go in several directions, depending on your area of specialization. In larger corporations with wider IT systems, you can make a shift towards network management positions, working as a network manager or network architect, where your duties will include designing networks, developing technology roadmaps and analyzing data traffic to determine network needs.

You might also decide to branch into network support with the goal of becoming a lead network controller. In addition to overseeing technical support-related decisions, your duties as a network controller will include staff management and network strategy. Another option is to make the shift to computer and information systems where your experience as a network engineer will give you a major head start towards becoming a Chief Technology Officer or Chief Information Officers (CIO), where your duties will include evaluating new technology and determining the overall corporate tech strategy.

If you’re interested in the business side of running a company, you could enroll for an MBA with the goal of becoming a Management Information Systems director or IT director. IT directors are responsible for ensuring effective data and network services by coordinating the IT personnel. They head the IT departments and determine the business requirements for the network systems while overseeing the department budget.

Yet another option is to specialize in the field of security, working your way up the ranks to become a Security Director or CISO (Chief Information Security Officer). Network Security Engineers help protect organizations from hardware or software vulnerabilities while testing new security solutions. An advanced degree in IT security will give your career a boost as well as certifications like the CCNP Security, CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) and CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker).

Network Engineers can work in almost any industry, so you can make a shift between different fields to areas you’re interested in. For instance, gaming studios and financial companies have a constant need for skilled network engineers and blockchain may likely play a major role in how networks evolve. Working in top-level positions means that you’ll likely be responsible for justifying the request for funding on new tech to top executives. You’ll need to have excellent presentation and communication skills.

That said, not all career paths lead to working full-time with other companies. If you have a lot of experience and a wide client list, you could make the shift into self-employment either setting up our own network company or work on a contract basis with different companies. Ultimately, the best decision is one that balances your technical skills, qualifications and interests as an engineer.

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